Marilynn Smith, 1929-2019: ‘Have Clubs, Will Travel’

Marilynn Smith has bequeathed an extraordinary legacy to all of us who love and play the game – our job now it to honor and grow that gift ~

Marilynn Smith had a smile that lit up the golf course and a heart so big that it took in and loved deeply every girl who has ever dreamed an impossible dream. And she never stopped smiling and loving little girls who held big dreams.

Marilynn enjoyed a long and distinguished public life, but this woman who helped found the LPGA, who served as the organization’s president (1958-1960), who held 23 worldwide professional titles, including back-to-back Titleholders Championships, and who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006, thought golf was a sport for sissies when she was a young girl growing up in central Kansas.

Smith’s father introduced her to the game, as ordered by her mother after Marilynn, then the pitcher and manager of a boys baseball team, laced her description of the team’s play with some adult language. Eleven-year old Marilynn, her mother decreed, needed to learn a more ‘ladylike’ sport. Father and daughter were off to the Wichita Country Club.

Golf and Marilynn Smith made friends and by her late teens the ‘Blonde Bomber’ was blasting the ball past her competitors. She won three back-to-back Kansas State Amateur championships.

Despite her skill, when it came to getting some financial support from the University of Kansas for travel to the 1949 national intercollegiate championship, the golf coach withheld the support, explaining to Marilynn’s father, “It’s too bad your daughter isn’t a boy.”

Are you surprised to learn Marilynn won the national championship in 1949?

Marilynn Smith

Miss M. Smith of the United States, has a discussion with her caddy.The first day of the Australian Ladies Open Golf got under way this morning, Friday at the Australian Course at Kensington.”I thought this was your summer?” American Marilynn Smith might well be asking her caddie during a break in play at The Australian yesterday. But Marilynn, 46, must have played in such weather many times in 25 years as a golf professional. February 28, 1975. (Photo by Gregory Lee/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).

Recalling that moment for post-Title IX women athletes, Marilynn explained:

There wasn’t much encouragement in those days for the gals. I was lucky I had a dad who could help me.

That moment certainly followed Marilyn Smith into her maturity, not as a bitter moment of gender discrimination, but as a touchstone inspiration for the Marilynn Smith LPGA Charity Pro-Am. Hundreds of girls and young women who have needed some support for their golf careers have gotten a boost from Marilyn, who certainly didn’t do it alone.  Among others, Lydia Ko, So Yeon Ryu, Ariya Jutanugarn, Angela Stanford, Karrie Webb, Pat Bradley, Sandra Gal, Dottie Pepper, Amy Alcott, Brittany Lincicome, Anna Nordqvist, Nancy Lopez and Jan Stephenson have made financial contributions to the Marilynn Smith Charity Pro-Am.

Marilyn taught those coming behind her to pay it forward so that each new generation of golfers would get the chance to #DriveOn! And she celebrated every aspect of the women’s game, typically from a front row seat!

Marilyn Smith

LPGA Founder Members, Marilynn Smith of the USA (left) and Patty Berg of the USA after they had raised the American Flag during the Opening Ceremony for the 2007 Solheim Cup Matches to be held at the Halmstad Golf Club, on September 13, 2007, in Halmstad, Sweden. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

We last saw Marilyn in public a few weeks ago at the LPGA’s Founders Cup, installed alongside Shirley Spork in a comfortable chair behind the 18th green, greeting, hugging, chatting up player after player as they finished their rounds.

LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan described Marilynn as his ‘North Star.’ But her reach extended well beyond the Tour’s management.

Marilynn Smith inspired and guided all of us, showed us what it means to dream big not just for yourself but for a global community of girls and women, inside the game of golf and beyond it.

What an extraordinary legacy Marilyn has bequeathed to us!

Our challenge now is to honor, sustain, and grow that legacy at every level of the game.

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